Since 400BC man has revered cocoa, the vital ingredient in chocolate, due to its reputed magical benefits in terms of the consumers’ intelligence, strength and even sex life! This infatuation continues today with the UK population devouring on average 10 kg per annum of the stuff.
These fascinating facts were imparted to the audience gathered in The Fair Traders Co-operative community room last Wednesday (April 13th), to learn how to taste chocolate and choose good wines to do it with. Chocolatier and Sommellier David Greenwood-Haigh from Divine Chocolate also explained that it tastes even better in the knowledge that their smallholder growers’ children are not losing their education or risking pesticide poisoning in bringing us the product.
Indulgent fair traders learnt that chocolate contains over 1500 flavour compounds compared with 300 in wine, so tasting is a serious business. A ‘big’ red such as Stellar Fairtrade Shiraz makes an ideal accompaniment. As with wine, storage temperature is vital, although as 18 degrees is ideal most of us do not need a chocolate cellar. However it must not be kept in the fridge. Good chocolate should be shiny and smooth – if not reject it. Do you listen to your chocolate? The snap when it breaks should be clear and clean. Grab a corner, it should start melting immediately. Smell it, a mix of sweet and spicy aromas but not a hint of chemicals or rubber. Now finally the three part taste, each of which should yield different and delightful sensations – press to the front part of the roof of your mouth with the tongue and hold briefly, and then to the back; and finally chew…aaaaaaaaaaahhh!
Such a fine product deserves this attention. A single tree only produces enough beans for three bars of chocolate per year and these have to be covered and turned lovingly three times daily for a week before bagging. Unlike in larger commercial plantations, the Divine crop is grown in smallholdings averaging 12 acres in Ghana. The partial shade of the rainforest canopy involves more labour intensive cultivation but provides the ideal conditions to develop a full flavour whilst helping protect this vital ecosystem.
The world market for beans is valued at £2.2 billion, compared with £70 billion for the chocolate market, so it is clear where the money is to be made. Uniquely, Divine is majority owned and democratically controlled by the 20,000 members of the Ghanaian smallholder growers co-operative so they can share in the added value of the finished product. The benefits are to be seen in their communities; in addition to a fair price, families are paid for their girls to attend school, a national campaign against child labour is targeting farmers outside their co-operative, and community projects such as cassava mills are being supported.
One of the main ingredients in all chocolate is sugar. Divine use only Fairtrade certified sugar from Malawi and indeed all other ingredients such as nuts and vanilla are Fairtrade certified where they are available. No wonder the growers co-operative are called Kuapa (meaning ‘good’) Kokoo (cocoa) and their motto is ‘papa pa’ (the best of the best).
The Fair Traders Co-operative 14-4-11
After two successful months of ‘Crafts With Rosie’ comes the first review of the “crafternoons”! Every Wednesday afternoon, The Fair Traders Co-operative sees the arrival of a bubbly group of regulars to grace the Community Room.
Crafters are encouraged to bring their projects along and share their skills with the rest of the crafting community! Several people have learnt to crochet, starting with basic crochet stitches. Very quickly getting the hang of the stitches, all have progressed on to making items such as blankets and table mats. Others have taken quickly to rag-rugging, completing rag-rugs and ragwreaths in a matter of weeks!
Watch out for Francis, who is entering a competition with her lavender filled cross stitched pouch. Francis has toiled over this creation for a number of weeks and finally completed the piece this week! We also have a number of expert knitters in the group. Pam and Susie are the go-to girls when it comes to knitting patterns and embroidery, helping Rosie to complete a childs jumper this week.
One member of the group, Margaret, has offered to share her skills in tatting. This is eagerly awaited by a number of members in the group.
Last Wednesday was the first of many (we hope) where the group basked in the sunshine outside the shop whilst crafting! Jokes were made by passers by, asking if the group were casting for Last of the Summer Wine – Rosie volunteered to be Marina, but no takers for Nora Batty!
Newcomers are always welcome to pop in to be part of the excitement and to share hints and tips on the latest craft trends! So if you fancy a touch of crafting, pleasant company and a cheeky brew, stop by and join in the fun!
It is a very special thing when a woman in a remote village in Northern Thailand has put all her skill, pride and history into a pair of handcrafted silver earrings and I, over 3000 miles away in Yorkshire, have the chance to wear them. In fact, I am humbled by it. The history and the ethnic integrity of the Karen Hill tribe, who handcraft the Luna Tree Silver Jewellery range, are moving in themselves.
The Hill Tribe minorities of the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand are semi nomadic in origin coming from Tibet, Burma, China and Laos during the last 200 years or so. They are “fourth world” people neither being recognised as developing nations nor reflecting the existing political boundaries of countries. The self-identity of all the Hill Tribes, rather than being defined by borders, is one bound by links of kinship, customs, language, dress and spiritual beliefs. Due to the isolation of the Hill Tribes, customs and traditions remain unchanged and go back centuries. The Hill tribes, with the exception of the Yeo, do not write and therefore all their folklore, knowledge, wisdom, customs and the minute details of their lives are all passed by spoken word and committed to memory.
Five Hill Tribes are involved in silver production; these are the Karen, Akha, Lahu, Hmong and Lisu. It is the Karen however, who produce silver on a commercial scale and supply Luna Tree Jewellery. Their villages are situated north of Chiang Mai in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand.
Traditionally, silver jewellery has been used as a store of wealth and as a means of adornment and beautification for the Hill Tribes. Silver jewellery proudly worn enhances financial security, signifies wealth, status and spirituality within the tribe. The Hill Tribe’s still occasionally use some silver in place of paper money, preferring something they consider retains its true value. On special occasions such as a birth or marriage silver is used for gifts and dowries.
The silver has a malleable quality and can be worked with surprising speed due to its purity and the skills of craftsmanship. Sterling silver in comparison is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, which gives it a harder finish, which can only be worked by machine rather than hand tools. The purity of the Hill Tribe silver means it will tarnish less quickly than sterling and will need less regular polishing to retain its appeal.
The hand worked Hill Tribe 99.9% silver has a look, weight and feel all its own and offers the wearer an intimate connection directly back to the silversmith who produced it. Every piece is unique and stunningly beautiful due its handmade characteristics.
The inspiration for all the designs of the jewellery comes from nature. The Karen people live close to the natural world working as subsistence farmers and have a very spiritual connection with their land.
The village is constantly producing new designs and prototypes for future products. The silversmiths are extremely creative and enjoy the challenge of working in partnership with Luna Tree Jewellery on new pieces. Appreciating the true cultural value of their crafts enables their traditional livelihoods to be sustained; work and training is then available for the next generation and their tribal heritage can be preserved.
So, it is with a sense of responsibility that I will pick out my choice of jewellery from the Luna Tree range feeling as I do an overwhelming empathy with the craftsman or woman who made it.
The Fair Traders Co-operative is pleased to host an evening of Fairtrade chocolate indulgence and food for thought on 13th April, when David Greenwood-Haigh of the Divine Chocolate Company will be presenting ‘Simply Divine: The Story of Chocolate from Bean to Bar’.
Divine is a Fairtrade certified company, and the only chocolate company that is 45% owned by the cocoa farmers. While Fairtrade ensures farmers receive a better deal for their cocoa and additional income to invest in their community, company ownership gives farmers a share of Divine’s profits and a stronger voice in the cocoa industry. Most of the cocoa that goes into Divine chocolate is grown in Ghana, where a group of farmers saw an opportunity to work together as a co-operative in order to ensure that their communities benefitted from cocoa trade liberalisation in the early 1990s. David travelled to Ghana at the end of last year to visit this visionary co-operative, and he has seen firsthand the positive impact of the unique company structure on their livelihoods and communities.
During his presentation David will share with us his experiences in Ghana, talk about the history of chocolate, the development of Fairtrade chocolate and the unique story of The Divine Chocolate Company.
And as well as talking about chocolate, David will also be providing opportunities to taste it… part of the evening will be a mini training session in how to be a chocolate taster – so you can check for yourself just how scrumptious Divine chocolate is (if you weren’t already aware)! To finish off, David will be demonstrating the art of truffle making, so that you can go home, try it for yourself and impress your friends! Again, those attending will be able to taste the ‘ganache’ that forms the basis for the truffles.
This really does promise to be an interesting evening, and there will be a licensed bar selling Fairtrade wine, beer and juice as well as opportunities to browse and buy from The Fair Traders Co-operative’s extensive range of food and drink, gifts, home wares, clothing, jewellery, accessories and more. And of course, Divine chocolate will be on sale, including their beautiful range of indulgent Divine Chocolate Easter eggs.
Come and join us for a presentation where you actually get to eat the content! Booking is essential, tickets are £3 and can be bought from The Fair Traders Co-operative shop or via the online shop.
On March 23rd, The Fair Traders Co-operative hosted a fascinating evening of presentations and discussion focussing on fair trade projects in Nepal. The event was led by suppliers to the shop who work with Nepalese communities and was well attended by customers, staff and members of The Fair Traders Co-operative, who also enjoyed a bar stocked with Fairtrade wine, beer and juice.
During the course of the evening, listeners were shown pictures of the stunning landscapes, cities and people of Nepal, and were told of the reality of life for Nepalese people, many of whom experience poverty, disadvantage and in some cases disease, in the form of leprosy, which is prevalent in the country. Listening to the speakers it was clear that they have been deeply affected and touched by their experiences in Nepal, by the country itself and by its people, who were described as beautiful, warm and welcoming.
The first speaker was local fashion accessories designer, Laura Queening, who travels frequently to Nepal to oversee the ethical and sustainable manufacture of her Aura Que range of bags, purses, scarves and stationary. Laura explained how she first visited Nepal in a gap year between college and university, during which she taught English in a Nepalese school. While she was there, she fell in love with the country, its culture and its people, and she wanted to find a way to help improve the lives of Nepalese people through her work. Consequently, when she was required to develop a product range for the third year of her degree at the London College of Fashion, Laura decided to use only materials that could be sourced from Nepal and to follow fair trade principles in the manufacture of the products.
Since then Laura has launched Aura Que, an ethical fashion accessories company which aims to create high quality, handcrafted products following IFAT fair trade guidelines and using sustainable materials and processes where possible. Laura explained how she works through the Nepal Fair Trade Organisation with a combination of certified fair trade factories and small family businesses, who she visits frequently to ensure standards and working conditions are good. Aura Que products are made from a range of materials, including buffalo leather, which Laura explained can be sustainably sourced in Nepal; banana yarn, which is soft and non-scratchy and which is produced from banana pulp that would otherwise be discarded as waste; and lokta bark, which is sustainably harvested high up in the Himalayas.
Laura described how the use of local materials and processes helps to maintain Nepalese traditional skills and crafts, and how working with family-run businesses, such as the one that makes the brass fittings for her bags, helps to ensure their long-term survival.
After Laura’s talk, Sue Lavendar and Allison Davies of Dhanusha Designs gave a heartfelt presentation about the work of the Nepal Leprosy Trust, with which their organisation works. Sue described the stigma that is attached to leprosy in Nepalese society, and explained how people affected by leprosy are very often cast out of their families and communities, and left with no way of earning a living. The Nepal Leprosy Trust runs a hospital providing free treatment, rehabilitation and support to people suffering from leprosy, and it was through contacts at the hospital that the idea for Dhanusha Designs was born. A group of women leprosy sufferers attending the hospital were trained in bead-work and jewellery making, using traditional Nepalese techniques, but with ideas fed in by Sue and Allison so that the finished necklaces and bracelets are suitable for the UK market. Once trained, the participants were given certificates and then employed making jewellery at the hospital for a fair wage and a decent meal each working day.
The jewellery is then brought back to the UK and sold, largely through parties but also here at The Fair Traders Co-operative, earning income to pay the workers’ wages, buy materials and continue the project. Extra income is being used to improve the workers’ standard of living, for example by building toilets within their communities, and small loans are available to the women involved in the project, enabling them to invest in livestock which can provide an extra source of income.
The training programme has been so successful that more recently some of the women have been involved in making trips to Kathmandu with Sue and Allison to gain confidence in buying the beads themselves. Apparently just the fact that these women have been on a bus and gone to the capital city has been enough to significantly improve their social standing in their communities. And of course the fact that they can earn a living for themselves makes a huge difference to their lives, their children’s quality of life and their self-esteem. There are now plans to support women from the core group in training other women in their communities to make the jewellery in their homes, spreading the skills and the wealth to a wider group.
‘Moving Mountains’ was another inspirational evening hosted by The Fair Traders Co-operative, through which those participating were able to learn the stories behind the products and hear how buying through The Fair Traders Co-operative really does make a positive difference to people’s lives. You can buy Aura Que accessories and Dhanusha Designs jewellery at The Fair Traders Co-operative and via our online store. Find out more about the Nepal Leprosy Trust at www.nlt.org.uk.
The next supplier event will be a Divine Chocolate evening on 13th April, which will include a chocolate tasting and truffle-making session, as well as a presentation on the development of the Divine Chocolate Company – it’s likely to be popular, so book now!